By Justin Bercovich
With whistles blowing and bodies flying, the UC Santa Cruz men’s soccer team played its most physical and emotional game of the season Saturday, picking up a hard-fought 4-3 victory over Cal State San Marcos.
With the Slugs up 3-2 with just six minutes remaining in the match, Mike Nuovo scored his third goal of the game for San Marcos, knotting the score at three. But the Slugs (11-1) refused to give up, and with less than three minutes left, junior Harry Abraham scored his second goal of the day to give UCSC the win.
"We knew what to do," Abraham said of his team’s late heroics. "If somebody scores on us, we’re going to score right back. Everybody got a piece of the ball, we got it up top, and we put it in."
This was the first time all season that the Slugs, now 11-1, gave up more than one goal.
Senior team captain Steve Wondolowski was impressed with the team’s showing.
"I feel relieved because we didn’t have our best game, but we showed our character," Wondolowski said. "I feel assured that when we’re down, we can come back."
Head coach Dan Chamberlain was ecstatic about his team’s perseverance in a game where neither team was able to take a two-goal lead.
"I haven’t had this kind of feeling since we beat Redlands in the playoffs in 2004," Chamberlain said. "This was the gutsiest performance by a UC Santa Cruz team ever. They proved to me that this team can do whatever it wants."
The game was not just emotional because of the lead changes. It was a very physical match with players making hard contact all over the field. The fans were energized, screaming at the referee every time a call went against the Slugs.
"In a physical game, usually the referee is leaning both ways," Wondolowski said. "Today, we felt that we were cheated on a couple calls, but we had to keep our composure, and that’s what we did."
Of the 31 fouls in the match, the Slugs were responsible for 23 of them. Seven players received yellow cards, including five Slugs. When asked about the tight officiating, Abraham said that the intensity level of the game was to blame.
"It was a rough game so there were a lot of tough calls," Abraham said. "The referee could have kept it under better control, but under the circumstances, any ref is going to have a tough game."
Coach Chamberlain was proud of his team’s ability to ignore the referees and physicality of the game.
"We have a policy that we don’t give the referee permission to affect what we do," Chamberlain explained. "There are always times when you get frustrated with it, but you can’t let that frustration affect your game." He continued, "The guys showed what kind of people they are because they didn’t let that affect their game. It was just another challenge to overcome, and they overcame it."